Juris Doctor (J.D.)

A Juris Doctor or doctor of Jurisprudence is commonly called a J.D. and is the degree that an individual earns when they successfully complete law school. The degree is required in every state except for California in order to practice law. California allows a person the option of a law office study degree as opposed to the Juris Doctor. Once completing law school and getting a law degree,  the Juris Doctor a person can then sit for the bar examination and obtain a license to become an attorney and practice law within a state.

There were many states that did not require an individual to have a degree from law school in order to get a license for practicing law until the 1930s and 1940s. The majority of lawyers up to that point would earn a license to practice law by working for an established attorney as an apprentice for a set amount of time. Most states started requiring that a person have a law degree in order to practice law by the 1950s. State legislatures made these requirements in order to raise standards of practicing lawyers and to limit the number of lawyers.

After this legislature was passed the degree that was offered by most universities and colleges was the master of laws degree or LL.M. During the 1960s universities and colleges increased the standard requirements for law degrees and the Juris Doctor replaced the master of laws degree and became the primary degree to be given by law schools.

Juris Doctor Requirements

J.D. program applicants must first earn a bachelor’s degree at the very minimum. A prospective Juris Doctor student does not have to have any prior experience with the judicial system or take any law courses as an undergraduate. During the application process a law school will request a student’s score from the LSAT (Law School Admission Test). In addition, a student will need to provide recommendation letters and possibly a current resume.

Each school has their own set of requirements for the Juris Doctor degree. While in many cases a portion of the education process can be completed online, total online J.D. programs are not accredited by the American Bar Association. Generally speaking, the requirements for the J.D. will include finishing a minimum number of credit hours during each academic period and taking required courses such as torts, contracts, criminal law, and civil procedure during their first year. Every state requires that a law student pass a professional responsibility course before they will receive a Juris Doctor degree.

While the first year of law school covers a core set of courses, students are provided with the option of choosing a concentration and completing a set number of elective courses during their final two years. Some of the optional courses may include public interest law, law and ethics, environmental law, patent law, federal litigation, legal writing, constitutional law, and torts.

License to Practice Law

Once a person has passed a J.D. degree program they will then need to pass the bar examination before they are allowed to legally practice law. Every state has their own bar examination that they administer, but most states require that a person graduate from an American Bar Association accredited law school.